Friday, February 25, 2011

Neon Angels and Little Lost Girls

Queens of Noise

It should come as no surprise that the Runaways are one of my all-time favorite bands.  Somehow they managed to overcome beginnings that were equal parts gimmicky (forming an all-girl group) and skeevy (manager Kim Fowley’s distasteful and essentially illegal relations with these underage girls) to become an incredible rock band. 

The Runaways were inspired primarily by the success of American glam rocker Suzi Quatro; her platform stomping glam anthems “Can the Can”, The Wild One”, and “48 Crash” sound like a cross between Gary Glitter and Slade, and Joan Jett’s look and sound were heavily influenced by Quatro, who also achieved renown for playing “Leather Tuscadero” on the sitcom “Happy Days”.   Even at the time I felt it dubious that there were a lot of women playing bass and wearing leather jumpsuits and feathered shags in the 50’s but I kept my mouth shut.

Even before Suzi there was an all-female rock group that achieved some success in the early 70’s, and that was Fanny. They achieved some fame with their cover of “Badge” by Cream in 1970; their sound was very conventionally early 70’s rock and its not clear how many women (or men for that matter) saw their all-female status as inspiring, but they are nevertheless a noteworthy footnote in the history of women in rock.

Thus by 1975 there was some precedent for the Runaways, and Joan Jett hooked up (one hopes not literally) with producer and all around weirdo Kim Fowley to assemble an all-female rock group.  In short order vocalist Cherie Currie, guitarist Lita Ford, bassist Sandy Fox (Michael Steele of the Bangles was briefly a member) and drummer Sandy West were assembled and began making music.

One thing about the Runaways is that they defy categorization.  Their sound has equal footing in the crunchy glam of Bowie and Slade, the metal of Deep Purple, and the punk of the Ramones.  Indeed, they formed during a transitional period in American music in general and Los Angeles music in particular, when the glitter era was ending but punk (and metal) had not yet started, so perhaps its no wonder that their sound bridges this musical divide. 

Obviously “Cherry Bomb”, off their 1976 eponymous album, is the major, standout track in the catalog of the Runaways, and its arguably one of the greatest songs of the entire 1970’s.  A chugging, strutting slice of sleazy, estrogen-fueled glitterpunk, it set the bar EXTREMELY high for not just female artists wishing to express their independence and sexuality but for men trying to show their rock chops.  Cherie Currie’s vocals swerve between quasi-operatic and seething venom (like when she says “Hello daddy, hello mom”).  I also love the double entendre of “Cherry Bomb”; growing up in the 70’s, nothing fascinated my friends and I more than explosives and fireworks, and the destructive power of cherry bombs was renowned.  To fuse this explosive image with teen female sexuality is simply brilliant.  This song is one of my all-time favorites.

But its by no means the only good song the Runaways ever recorded.  Another standout from their first album is “American Nights”, with its heavy, head-banging rhythm and staccato guitar and big, catchy chorus—this song sits exactly between early punk and early metal.  “Thunder”, also from the first album, also chugs along but here it’s the glam of Slade that comes to mind.  “You Drive Me Wild” sounds the most like the Runaways’ most obvious antecedent, Suzi Quatro, with its bar-blues, boogie-woogie backbeat, and “Dead End Kids” sounds like their answer to Heart’s “Barricuda” and also seems like a blueprint for Pat Benetar’s “Heartbreaker”.  Like “Cherry Bomb” and “American Nights”, the lyrics celebrate teenage rebellion in its most illicit fashion. 

Their second album, Queens of Noise (taken from a lyric from “American Nights”), continues in the same vein.  The title track and “Take It Or Leave It” sound like Ziggy Stardust era Bowie but with bigger, more propulsive drumming driving it forward.  Lita Ford and Joan Jett get chances to show their own vocal chops on “Midnight Music” and “Born To Be Bad”, which tend to be more ballad-y (although the huge, crunching riffs on “Born” sound like Sabbath or Rainbow.  “Neon Angels On the Road To Ruin” has a sassy strut to it and Currie’s soaring vocals and again touches closest to Suzi Quatro’s music.  “I Love Playin’ with Fire” is Joan Jett’s best track, written and sung by her alone and shows flashes of what she would accomplish in her solo work.  “California Paradise” and “Hollywood” celebrate the trashy culture of Southern California in sleazy glittered-out hard rock fashion. 

Cherie Currie left the Runaways after their second album, and in 1977 the Runaways soldiered on with Jett and Ford sharing the vocals.  1977’s Waitin’ For the Night rocks a little harder and loses some of the more obvious glam rock influence, but songs like “Little Sister” showcase the increasingly powerful songwriting and singing chops of Jett, while songs like “Wasted” and “Fantasies” highlight the metal direction Ford’s music would take post-Runaways.  “Gotta Get Out Tonight” has a metallic riff that references “Get It On” by T. Rex.

Their final album, And Now . . . The Runaways, showed a band in decline.  Only half the songs were written by the band and many were covers.  “Saturday Nite Special” is one of the only standouts.   However, it does presage the arc of Joan Jett’s subsequent career, as Joan has achieved more renown for her covers than her own material—“I Love Rock and Roll” (originally by the Arrows), “Do You Wanna Touch Me” (Gary Glitter), and “Crimson and Clover” (Tommy James and the Shondells). Of her early hits, only “Bad Reputation” was written by Joan. 

Currie herself released two post-Runaways albums, 1978’s Beauty’s Only Skin Deep and 1984’s duet with her twin sister Marie Messin’ With the Boys.  The first isn’t available on iTunes but several cuts are on YouTube; “Call Me At Midnight” shows a clear direction away from the proto-grunge of the Runaways and toward a much more straightforward pop rock sound; its not bad but it lacks the dangerous bite of her Runaways work.  “Young and Wild” definitely rocks harder, and hews more closely to the Runaways.

Her second album, Messin’ With the Boys, features both Cherie and her twin sister Marie on vocals but represents an even farther step away from the punch and bite of the Runaways and toward a new wave-tinged pop.  “Since You’ve Been Gone” sounds like Patti Smyth era Scandal crossed with “How To Pick Up Girls” by the Little Girls.  Their cover of the Raspberries’ “Overnight Sensation” is decent and appropriate thematically for Cherie’s stint in the Runaways.  In the 90’s Cherie reprised her biggest career hit, covering “Cherry Bomb” backed by fantastic punk revivalists the Streetwalkin’ Cheetahs (who have covered everyone from the Stooges and the MC5 to the Dictators and Dead Boys and who have played with Wayne Kramer and Deniz Tek).

After the breakup of the Runaways, Lita Ford started a solo career that moved more forcefully into a pop/hair metal direction a la LA bands like Ratt.  1984’s Dancin’ On The Edge, which is available on iTunes, is a good example, and “Gotta Let Go” showcases this pop metal material.  It wasn’t until 1988’s Lita, which had a much smoother pop sheen, that she achieved breakout success with singles like “Kiss Me Deadly” and her duet with Ozzy Ozbourne “Close My Eyes Forever”. 

Even before the Runaways had hit it big, producer/impresario/lecherous Svengali Kim Fowley was trying to recreate their magic.  Attempting to cash in on the then-emerging punk trend in Los Angeles, Fowley in 1976 assembled Venus and the Razoblades around 17-year old singer Vicki Arnold.  Their single album, which is on iTunes, sounds absolutely NOTHING like punk—its less overtly punky than the Runaways—and while notably primarily because of its novelty aspects, some of the songs are at least well written, and Arnold has an amazing voice (hard to admit this but probably better than Cherie Curry’s in the Runaways).  “Finer Things in Life” has a soaring chorus and a chugging refrain that, when matched with Arnold’s exquisite voice, make this sound like a missing Blondie track from Parallel Lines.  “I Wanna Be Where the Boys Are” sounds like a Runaways ripoff both musically and lyrically (the Runaways actually cover it on their live album Live In Japan); “Dog Food” sounds like new wave-y 60’s surf music.  “Punk-A-Rama” is another Runaways-like sludge-fest with incredibly corny lyrics which are exactly what you’d expect from a 40 year old man trying to cash in on punk’s popularity.  Mostly this album sounds like decent female-headed bar band rock.

Venus co-lead singer Dyan Diamond (discovered by Fowley when she was just 14), went solo after this one-and-done, and Kim produced her album In The Dark, which remains an unheralded gem.  Sadly, its not available on iTunes, but the song “Your Neighborhood” from it can be found on YouTube.  It sounds like catchy female powerpop, with particularly strong vocals; it reminds me of the bouncy mod-influenced pop the Bangles put out on their first album. 

In the early 80’s Fowley added Diamond to a “supergroup” he was putting together of musicians from other groups called the Dreamers; “Can’t You See The Love in My Eyes” is smooth MOR pop but its undeniably catchy (this unreleased bootleg is on YouTube).

At the same time Fowley was helping assemble the Runaways, he was writing and producing for a band called the Hollywood Stars, a glam/powerpop/hard rock band similar in musical feel to Kiss.  The Kiss connection is perhaps not surprising; the Stars did the original version of “King of the Night Time World” that Kiss then covered on their 1976 breakthrough smash Destroyer.  Their biggest hit, “All the Kids on the Street” has a glam-rock stomping beat fused with soaring melodies and a hard rock sheen that is enjoyable 70’s rock.  “Sunrise on Sunset” continues in a similar vein and is a good glam/pop lost classic.  “Escape” is more crisp 70’s rock; it was covered by Alice Cooper on Welcome To My Nightmare.  Fans of Kiss, Angel, Starz, and other smooth 70’s hard rock bands should check this out for sure. 

Who were the successors to the Runaways?  Obviously there have been many all-female rock groups since; just a few years after the Runaways broke up, the Go-Go’s and the Bangles had formed in LA, and while both went on to considerable success, neither captured the genre-busting rock magnificence of the Runaways.  To me the true torch carrier for the Runaways was L7, who made incredibly big, fat, heavy music that pulled on the Ramones and Nirvana but was utterly unique and absolutely earth shattering live.  I saw L7 dozens of times in the early 90’s and they were never short of brilliant.  My favorite songs are “Fast and Frightning”, “Deathwish”, “Till the Wheels Fall Off”, “Packin’ a Rod”, and their cover of “American Society” by Eddie and the Subtitles off their second album Smell the Magic, and “Shitlist” off Bricks are Heavy. 

Thursday, February 24, 2011

More Protopunk

The English Stooges?  Crushed Butler in '70 or '71.

WOW.  Its amazing what you can find when you are just poking about somewhat aimlessly.  Yesterday I was fooling around on YouTube, watching videos by bands like the Dogs, the seminal Detroit/LA protopunk band I discussed in a previous post, when I found several new and interesting things.  First, there was another pre-punk, Stooges-influenced band named the Dogs.  They were from Iowa, supposedly took their name from the Stooges classic “Now I Wanna Be Your Dog” and were active from ’73 until ’77, when they released a single, “Rot N’ Roll” b/w “Teen Slime”.  “Rot N’ Roll” is a bottom-heavy slice of Detroit protopunk, with obvious MC5 influences in its chugging but melodic guitar line and big rhythm section, as well as Iggy’s yelps and howls from “TV Eye”.  “Teen Slime” is more conventional rock and roll in its structure but also has big blasts of James Williamson-like feedback/solos and eventually dissolves into falsetto shriekings.  These songs are available on YouTube and someone has put up a band page on Angelfire if you’re interested in a truly obscure corner of pre-punk America.

The other band I stumbled upon through these searches is Crushed Butler, who were a legendary protopunk/metal band from London that formed in 1976.  In 1998, Dig The Fuzz Records released an album that compiles sessions they made between 1969 and 1971, and they sound like an amalgamation of the Stooges, Black Sabbath, Blue Cheer, and Sir Lord Baltimore—“Factory Grime” is incredibly heavy, with the big, fill-heavy drumming of Sir Lord Baltimore or possibly “War Pigs” era Sabbath and Asheton-like guitar riffs.  “Love Is All Around Me” has a repetitive bass/guitar riff and a sing-song-y vocal and a huge, catchy chorus backed with blasts of feedback.  This is really amazing stuff.  Anyone who likes the punk/metal heaviness of these other bands, or is simply interested in this unsung pioneer band, should check them out.

Crushed Velvet went through several personnel changes, and eventually changed their name, first to Tiger and then to Helter Skelter, who released “I Want You” in ’72 or ’73, which carried on in the same acid/protopunk/protometal/freakout vein (this song is posted on YouTube).  The Blue Cheer influence is really strong here.  In 1974, guitarist/singer Jesse Hector formed the Hammersmith Gorillas, who released a cover of the Kinks’ “You Really Got Me”, which is a crude blast of mod noise like the original (only sloppier and noisier).  “Leavin’ ‘ome”, the B-side, is a catchy, heavy, melodic blast that evokes the heavy blues of groups like Free.

And finally, there's Third World War.  Formed in England in 1970, they played a rough brand of highly radical political rock.  Their work isn't available on iTunes yet, but several songs, including "Ascension Day" "A Little Bit of Urban Rock" (which sounds a little bit like "American Ruse" by the MC5), and "Teddy Teeth Go Sailing" are posted on YouTube.  To me, their sound is less overtly punky sounding, falling somewhere between Captain Beefheart and Zappa on the one hand and the Edgar Broughton Band on the other, but their highly revolutionary politics fit in well with the ethos espoused by the MC5's White Panther Party.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Rebellious Jukebox

Manchester's Joy Division

In a recent post I was musing at how difficult it is to define some musical genres such as new wave, which musically incorporates a wide range of influences.  A similarly difficult to define genre that encompasses music from a similar time period is post-punk.  Like new wave, post-punk is often first and foremost described by mentioning what it is NOT, and that is punk.  Traditionally punk is considered music that is fast, loud, raw, and simple, that favored emotion and immediacy and even lauded amateurish enthusiasm over technicality and subtlety.  Most punk bands took the simplicity and brutal impact of the Ramones as their starting point, and many of the bands that formed in their wake, particularly in England and Los Angeles, followed their sonic blueprint fairly accurately.

But as punk exploded in England and elsewhere a movement arose almost immediately behind it that sought to incorporate other, more complex musical concepts into the energy of punk.  This movement gained its most immediate foothold in post-Pistols London, but its antecedents can actually be traced to the music coming out of New York (particularly CBGB’s) in the 70’s.  Bands like Television merged the raw energy of punk with a more complex technical playing and unique time signatures.  Their epic album Marquee Moon contains many of the sonic signatures of post-punk, including a funkier sound, longer, more complex songs, and a surprisingly accomplished technicality to the guitar work.  Bands like the Talking Heads and Blondie were fairly early on incorporating funk rhythms and reggae influences that would flourish in the English post-punk scene as well.  Even earlier than this, the Velvet Underground were creating dissonant, droning audial landscapes with John Cale’s electric viola and keyboards that would also become a major component of English post-punk. 

If one wants to point to a starting point for English post-punk, it would have to be the rumbling thump of Jah Wobble’s bass on “Public Image”, the first single by former Sex Pistol Johnny Rotten’s new group, Public Imaged Ltd.  Formed by John Lydon (formerly Rotten) and his longtime friend, Jah Wobble, PiL played music that was much more complex than that of the Pistols.  Also critical to this new sound was guitarist Keith Levene; his shimmering guitar soundscapes moved PiL’s music far beyond the simplistic roar of the Pistols.  Astoundingly, this first PiL album does not appear to be available on iTunes, though their second, entitled Metal Box in England and Second Edition in the U.S., is.  It too explores an unusual musical landscape, equally informed by Krautrock, dub reggae (particularly on songs like “Memories”), and even echoes of metal (the guitar on “Swan Lake”).  Levene’s unique chord progressions almost call to mind the post-bebop of John Coltrane on songs like “Poptunes” (which is anything but), while Lydon murmurs behind the wall of clangorous guitar sounds.  This is NOT easy music to listen to; I rarely throw on PiL just for fun.   On their third studio album, Flowers of Romance, Wobble has departed and the emphasis is on Marty Atkins’ pounding drums.  The title track is driven by Atkins’ almost tribal backbeat and Levene’s Middle Eastern keyboard arabesques, which also call to mind some of Cale’s viola work for the Velvets.  Lydon released 5 more albums under the Pil moniker into the 80’s and 90’s, and worked with several other musicians of note, including (perhaps most surprisingly) Steve Vai and John McGeoch

If there is another person who can be considered the architect of the post-punk sound, it is Mr. McGeoch.  McGeoch’s distinctive, shimmering guitar was essential to the work of several post-punk bands, including Magazine, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and Gen X.  McGeoch formed the band Magazine with ex-Buzzcocks singer Howard DeVoto in 1977 and their work became a flash point for the growing post-punk scene.  Heavily influenced by the early glam/prog of Roxy Music as well as by ex-Roxy Music member Brian Eno’s production work with David Bowie in the mid 70’s, Magazine created music that took the rage of punk and channeled it into music that could be edgy and rocking but could also be lush and romantic.  Their first album, Real Life, channeled both of these disparate musical directions.  “Shot By Both Sides” still hearkens heavily back to DeVoto’s work with Pete Shelley in the Buzzcocks, and is fast-paced and guitar-driven, but “Definitive Gaze” is a very smooth synth-driven number that almost recalls the prog rock of Yes and ELP as much as it does Bryan Ferry.  “My Tulpa” strides uneasily between these two directions, with the keyboards being less soaring and more of an accompaniment to the resulting song.  “The Light Pours Out of Me” is perhaps their best song, and it marries the post-dub bass throb of Jah Wobble’s work with PiL with the edgy, rapid-paced percussion of the Buzzcocks with the stark emotional/sonic landscapes of Joy Division (particularly “New Dawn Fades”). 

Magazine’s subsequent albums explored similar territory.  “Sweeheart Contract” off their third album, The Correct Use of Soap, again channels the simple electronic sounds of Joy Division; “A Song From Under the Floorboards” has a throbbing bass and lush keyboards, and McGeoch’s guitar clangs like it does on his work with Gen X

Magazine broke up in 1980, and McGeoch joined Siouxsie Sioux, Steve Severin, and former Slits drummer Budgie in Siouxsie and the Banshees.  His two albums with them represent their finest work.  1980’s Kaleidoscope is defined by McGeoch’s high pitched, shimmering guitar work, particularly on songs like “Happy House”, “Hybrid”, and “Christine”, giving them an atonal, jittery edge that makes them among the Banshee’s best.  1981’s Juju is even better, containing what may be Siouxsie and McGeoch’s finest moment, “Spellbound”, which starts with McGeoch’s haunting and evocative guitar line intertwining with Steve Severin’s simple, counterpointing bass hits before galloping into the body of the song with tribal urgency.  McGeoch’s guitar is allowed to peek through the driving rhythm section during the body of the song but then it shimmers through hectic chord changes during the refrain, sounding more like its influenced by Stravinsky than Chuck Berry.  The other standout track here is “Arabian Nights”, which again shines with a dissonant guitar light.  Speaking of light, “Into the Light” has the propulsive feel of early PiL and a much more straightforward rock direction, while, “Sin In My Heart” has a quiet but intense feel.   

McGeoch was sacked for alcohol-related health issues after their next album, and from there he went on to provide guitar work, along with several other noteworthy punk/post-punk guitarists, to Generation X’s final album Kiss Me Deadly.  This work is among the best of a career already filled with highlights, and the shimmery textures of songs like “Heavens Inside” and “Stars Look Down” stand proudly next to his work with Magazine and the Banshees.  In 1986 he joined his fellow post-punk pioneer John Lydon in PiL, and worked with him until that group’s dissolution in 1992.  McGeoch’s guitar was a signature sound of the English post-punk scene, and his influence was profound; bands as disparate as the Smiths, Radiohead, U2, and Jane’s Addiction all have cited his work as a major influence. 

Another classic English post-punk to me is “Something’s Gone Wrong Again” by Howard Devoto’s former group the Buzzcocks.  It starts with a thumping piano and sounds a lot like “Now I Want To Be Your Dog”, except instead of the everything-on-11 feedback roar of the Stooges it retains an edgy, nervous energy that is matched by the negative lyrics and Pete Shelley’s high pitched, almost paranoid sounding vocals.  What I like most about this song is how it both celebrates and laughs at all of our daily mishaps and the mountains made of these molehills.  The ultimate message is that life essentially isn’t so bad if the worst that happens to you is that the pub is closed or you run out of smokes. 

Another titan of the English post-punk movement is Wire.  Their music swerved uneasily between the manic energy of punk and a more experimental (but no less unrestrained) art rock approach.  Their masterpiece, Pink Flag, came out the same year the Pistol’s first and only album was released, but the difference between the two couldn’t be more huge.  “Three Girl Rhumba” has the rawness and energy of punk, but this is music that more complicated than it sounds.  Songs like this and “Lowdown” restrain the anger of early punk into a seething mass that occasionally leaks out in choruses of shouting rage.  The repeating bass/guitar line of “Three Girl Rhumba” would be co-opted by Elastica for their song “Connection”.  Other times the off-key vocals recall Tom Verlaine’s in Television, particularly on the title track, and the sonic drone evokes the Velvets or even Suicide.  Indeed, if there’s a single logical antecedent to this it might be Suicide’s work, which explored a similar vein of repetition, drone, and occasional explosive anger. 

Gang of Four is also considered one of the major English post-punk bands.  Their 1979 album Entertainment! restrains the rage and energy of punk into sporadic atonal bursts of guitar and encapsulates it with a pulsing funk bass.  My favorite song by them is “Anthrax”, which starts with Andy Gill’s feeding back guitar creating a droning, reverberating sonic atmosphere—it reminds me of nothing so much as a start (post) punk answer to Eddie Van Halen’s “Eruption”.   Eventually, a poppy rhythm kicks in, though Gill’s feedback-drenched guitar work continues to color it until the strange, alternating spoken-and sung vocals start up (which sound to me like Vince Clarke’s strange experiments on “I Before E Except After C and “In My Room” on Yaz’s debut Upstairs at Eric’s).  “At Home He’s a Tourist” pumps up the funky energy even more, sounding musically like early Talking Heads, and “Ether” has an almost metallic surge to the guitars, which burst out of a stark, Joy Division-like rhythm.  “Paralyzed”, off their second album Solid Gold is characterized by Gill’s staccato guitar licks and builds in intensity like Joy Division’s “Shadowplay”.

Emerging out of Leeds like Gang of Four, The Mekons were a band that made music that went in a wide variety of directions, and they’ve continued to be fruitful and produce quality music from the 70’s to today.  “Snow” off 1980’s Devils, Rats and Piggies: A Special Message from Godzilla has a fuzzy, repetitive synth line and vocodered vocals that remind me of another interesting post-punk artifact, “Warm Leatherette” by the Normal.  “St. Patrick’s Day” incorporates braying horns and skirling violins and sounds like a reconstruction of English folk music into something post-modern and contemporary; the Pogues would explore this same territory in a more conventional manner with songs like “I’m a Man You Don’t Meet Every Day”.  Almost everything the Mekons has done, and they’ve been quite prolific, has been unique and challenging. 

The Mekon’s use of synthesizers and electronic effects mirrored a burgeoning trend at that time in English post-punk; many bands would look to the synthesizer to break out of macho hegemony of the guitar and produce some truly interesting sounds.  Another such band was Cabaret Voltaire, who created dissonant soundscapes that drew from the minimalist pulse of Suicide and the contfrontational pre-industrial antics of Throbbing Gristle (who themselves are another seminal proto-industrial music precursor; We Hate You (Little Girls)” is perhaps the scariest, weirdest song not recorded by the Butthole Surfers, who clearly must have been listening to D.O.A.; “Hot on the Heels of Love” is all burbling synths and like “United” sounds like early Mode).  Voltaire’s first album has many Gristle-like moments, most notably “Kirlian Photograph” and “No Escape”, but my favorite song by them is “Split Second Feeling” off their lauded 1981 album Red Mecca; its clearly industrial but also has a sweetness to it.

They would go on to become one of the major movers and shakers of the New Romantic movement, but in their early work, the Human League sounded like the electroclash hip hop of Grandmaster Flash and Afrika Bambaataa.  “Being Boiled” sounds like a cross between “White Lines” and “Planet Rock”.  Co-founders Ian Marsh and Martyn Ware would leave Human League soon after and form first the British Electric Foundation and then Heaven 17, which would have hits with the burbling but heavily R&B influenced songs “Let Me Go” and “Temptation”)  Scritti Politti would also go on to have several synth-driven new wave hits but even at the height of their popularity they remained innovative—“Hypnotize” and “Wood Beez”, like “Being Boiled”, take their musical cue from American hip hop and electrofunk.  However, their early work was much less sweet; “Skank Bloc Bologna” and “Is and Ought the Western World” sound more like missing Wire and Magazine singles than Malcolm McLaren’s “Buffalo Gals”.  “The Sweetest Girl” is quieter and much more melodic and hints at the directions leader Green Gartside would take Politti in that would result in their smash hit “The Perfect Way”.  Fad Gadget never achieved the fame of the rest of their synth rock contemporaries, but their single “The Box” creeps and grinds and pulses behind a buzzy synth throb with spoken vocals; again, to me the nearest sonic neighbor here is some of the strange electronic experiments Gibby Haynes did with the Butthole Surfers.  “For Whom the Bells Toll” is more danceable and again you can see the cross-pollination between electrofunk and this music.

Perhaps no band was more prolific than The Fall, who have continued to release music since their inception in the late 70’s.  I’ve never been a huge fan but Mark E. Smith, leader of the Fall, has legions of fans.  I like “Frightened” and “Rebellious Jukebox” off their first album, 1979’s Live At the Witch Trials.

Joy Division are without question the greatest post-punk band that ever existed, and to me are inarguably one of the top five rock bands ever.  Their brilliance was their ability to mine emotional landscapes in the lyrics that so perfectly matched the sonic ones created by their instruments.  One hallmark of much of post-punk was the ability and desire of the musicians to move beyond the basic rage of the Pistols.  Much of the Pistols’ work, and that of their immediate punk successors, was characterized by their anger at the dismal sociopolitical and economic milieu of late 70’s England, and the stultification of society in general and music and pop culture in particular.  But starting with the edgy, nervous energy of the Buzzcocks, Magazine, and Wire, post-punks bands moved beyond rage, and nobody did that better than Joy Division.  Whereas rage is anger directed outward at the world, emotions like anxiety and depression are anger directed inward at the self, and many of Joy Division’s finest songs seethed both lyrically and sonically with paranoia and despair.  “Twenty Four Hours”, particularly the live version recorded at the Preston Warehouse on 28 February 1980, is one of the most harrowing, intense songs ever recorded; lyrics like “Just for one moment, thought I'd found my way
looking beyond the day at hand, I saw it slip away” hint at the inner torment and negativity that eventually led singer Ian Curtis to take his own life on the eve of the band’s first American tour.  Curtis almost croons these lyrics here while the band hammers its way through the feedback-drenched, bludgeoning music.  This is human emotion at its bleakest, rawest, and most intense, and this song is one of my all-time favorites for this harrowing honesty.  “Digital”, on the other hand, has a bouncy, new wave-y bass pulsing rhythm and a more optimistic musical sound, but here Curtis’ paranoid, needy lyrics (“I feel it closing in, I feel it closing in, Day in, day out, DAY IN, DAY OUT!”) create a jarring counterpoint to the relative lightness of the music.  Similarly, “Isolation” also has a poppy, optimistic synth line that again contrasts with the self-loathing of the lyrics (“Mother I tried please believe me, I'm doing the best that I can. I'm ashamed of the things I've been put through, I'm ashamed of the person I am”).  And of course, two of their signature songs, “Love Will Tear Us Apart Again” and “Atmosphere”, marry soaring, lush, romantic keyboard-driven music to lyrics describing the breakup of a couple that has grown apart (“resentment rides high, but emotions won't grow, and we're changing our ways, taking different roads”).  Another apotheosis was “Transmission”, which has a coldness and alienness to it that reminds me of some of Tubeway Army’s early work.  On the one hand its lush and danceable synth pop, but in contrast to work by Yaz or Human League this is distant, almost emotionless work. 

It was one of Joy Division’s singular abilities to fuse such disparateness into a single song and do so magnificently.  Still other Joy Division songs switch this around, linking lyrics that celebrate life to a bleak sonic landscape.  “A Means To An End” has a repetitive, bass-driven vibe that seems like a marriage of “Now I Wanna Be Your Dog” by the Stooges to the dreary goth feel of “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” by Bauhaus

Two other Joy Division songs always jostle in my mental top-10 list.  One is “No Love Lost”, which was an early single from their art/punk beginnings but already hints at the power this band would one day possess.  It starts with an insistent, throbbing bass to which jagged, nervous blasts of guitar are added; in this regard it is very similar to “Anthrax” by Gang of Four.  Eventually Curtis’ lyrics come in over halfway through; at this stage they are punky, almost bratty and the seething rage here seems to be directed outward to a lover; there’s also a strange, spoken-word interlude that recalls “Lady Godiva’s Operation” more than anything.

My other favorite Joy Division song is “Ceremony”, which most people quite properly consider to be the first single by New Order, the band formed by Curtis’ bandmates following his tragic suicide in 1980.  Ironically, its one of the most optimistic songs, both lyrically and musically, that Joy Division ever wrote, ending with these hopeful lyrics:

Oh, I'll break them down, no mercy shown,
Heaven knows, it's got to be this time,
Avenues all lined with trees,
Picture me and then you start watching,
Watching forever, forever,
Watching love grow, forever,
Letting me know, forever.

Its hard not to listen to this beautiful, hopeful but still complex song and not feel a massive twinge of sadness at the lost potential of Curtis’ tragic end.  This was a band still on the lowest, steepest part of its growth curve and they likely could and would have gone on to even more magnificent things.  New Order did an admirable job of carrying on, and indeed they did move in a much lighter, more optimistic and poppy direction with their music.  But I always think of what might have been when I hear this song.

If there’s a silver lining to the Joy Division story, it’s the fact that, starting in the late 90’s, bands started using them as a musical starting point, and since then a post-punk revival of sorts has occurred that has brought Joy Division from being an obscure but critically beloved band to being a touchstone for much contemporary music.  Often these bands have been criticized for sounding TOO much like Joy Division, as if that’s a bad thing.  I’ve said it often—EVERYONE steals from someone, its what you do with what you’ve stolen that truly matters.  Bands like Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones were heavily criticized back in the late 60’s and early 70’s for “ripping off” their blues inspirations—Zep was even sued by Willie Dixon!—and these accusations have continued to haunt other musicians to this day.  Yeah, Whitesnake sounded a lot like Zep, and Cinderella sounded a lot like AC/DC, but those bands sucked DESPITE these, not BECAUSE of them.

Perhaps nobody has been more harshly tarred with the “Joy Division clone” brush than New York’s Interpol; admittedly, lead singer Paul Banks often sounds EXACTLY like Ian Curtis, and Interpol often stake out the same spare, melancholy musical landscape as Joy Division.  I LOVE Interpol, they’re one of my favorite bands, and I particularly like their song “NYC”, which is in my opinion the greatest Joy Division song JD never recorded; its got that lush, melancholy, introspective feel in the music and lyrics (“I had seven faces, thought I knew which one to wear; I’m sick of spending these lonely nights, training myself not to care”).  Its simple, powerful, and magnificent.  Its hands down my favorite songs by them and one of my favorite songs ever.  But there’s really no bad song on their debut album, Turn On The Bright Lights (named after a lyric in “NYC”); all of them explore the same tension and sadness that colors the work of Joy Division but in a way that is unique and original; “PDA”, “Obstacle 1 and 2”, “The New”, and Leif Erikson” all share this same spare style that emphasizes emptiness and emotional and sonic space. 

The subsequent albums by Interpol continue to mine similar territory but branches out considerably.  “Evil” off their second album Antics has the edgy blasts of atonal guitar that sound like Wire or Gang of Four.  “NARC” is reminiscent of “PDA” from their first album, but its “Length of Love” with its clanging, ominous guitar line that funnels this bands melancholy into something that’s fully of edgy tension.  Aside from “NYC” I feel this is their best song, followed by “Mammoth” off their third album, Our Love To Admire, as it has a similar propulsive beat and ringing guitar.  “The Heinrich Maneuver” is a little less tense and more upbeat, while “Wrecking Ball” and Pioneer To the Falls” both slow things down for a more introspective feel.  I haven’t gotten into their most recent, self-titled album yet; at first listen nothing reaches out and grabs me like “NYC”, “Length of Love” and “Mammoth” do, but I’m still hoping for good things from this band.

Another band that has been accused of ripping off Joy Division is the Editors.  Their 2005 debut, The Back Room, was a critical smash and was widely considered the British Turn On the Bright Lights.  “Lights”, their first single, has elements of Joy Division, particularly singer Tom Smith’s languid, Curtis-esque vocals, but sonically it sounds closer to the post-punk psychedelia of Echo and the Bunnymen or Aztec Camera.  “Munich” continues in this driving, pulsing direction, as do “Blood” and “Bullets”, but I’ll be honest—while this album shows promise I actually think the Editors got better with subsequent albums.  Everything here is good but nothing rises above the pack like “Smokers Outside the Hospital Doors” off The End has a Start.  This album, however, has been less critically acclaimed, at least in part for how it slides dangerously toward the sound of post-modern bands like Radiohead and even Coldplay.  “The Racing Rats” off this album is bigger and bolder, incorporating a New Romantic feel, something that was pushed even further on “Papillon” off their third album In This Light and On This Evening—the synth line from this sounds like something by Real Life or Ultravox, while the “awwwwwwww” backing vocals sound like the ones on New Order’s “Blue Monday”.  This might have been where Joy Division went had Ian Curtis not died, in an even lusher and slicker, more danceable direction just as New Order did themselves.   The title track is even more synth-driven, sounding almost like the Cocteau Twins.  On “Bricks and Mortar”, the synths burble like Krautrock.

Lowlife’s “Something Something” is another song that evokes Joy Division, particularly in singer Craig Lorentson’s booming, sonorous baritone.  “Ramified” is more atmospheric, almost literally; it sounds like Joy Division’s “Atmosphere”.  She Wants Revenge sounds like a cross between Joy Division, Vince Clarke era Depeche Mode, and Human League, heavy on the pulsing synths but with the edgy, ominous guitars of JD in the background.  This is particularly evident on “Red Flags and Long Nights” and “Sister”.  These Nights” has a more languid, gloomy pace and is more spare but still has that classic post-punk/goth/new ro feel.  “I Don’t Want To Fall In Love” is poppier and more upbeat and sounds like “New Life” off the Mode’s Speak and Spell.  “Us” is pure Human League, big, lush, romantic, but with a hint of gloominess and with vocals that mirror those of Phil Oakey; man, when I hear this, it immediately brings me back to my freshman year of college in 1985, its that evocative of the time and era.  “Broken Promises for Broken Hearts” has a similar guitar line as “Mammoth” by Interpol but never explores anything as fascinating lyrically or musically.

The Bravery also garnered critical raves for their eponymous debut, which touched on JD on songs like “An Honest Mistake” but, like She Wants Revenge and the Killers, extended their reach to other post-punk/new wave pioneers like Duran Duran and the Cure (“No Brakes” off this album really echoes with the timbre of Robert Smith).  I Love You But I’ve Chosen Darkness also produce music that falls in that contemplative area between Joy Division and Coldplay; my favorites are “The Ghost” and “Lights”.  “Sunlight Makes Me Paranoid” and “Now That I Miss Her” by Elefant also evoke Curtis and company but are a little more upbeat.  The Prids, while not having a vocalist who sounds exactly like Ian Curtis, also produce music that is often spare, introspective, and uneasy, like Joy Division.  I particularly like “Shadow and Shadow”, “Let It Go”, “Like Hearts”, and “All That You Want” off their album Until the World is Beautiful; another obvious starting point here is Bauhaus, who also made music that was dark and spare.

Its not particularly surprising that so many bands are carrying on the legacy of Ian Curtis and Joy Division, since they represent an archetype of the post-punk era.  It’s the same reason so many bands sound like AC/DC, Led Zeppelin, the Ramones, or Madonna—they are all iconic of a particular genre or era.

Friday, February 18, 2011

'77 Redux

The Exploding Hearts, R.I.P.

The one thing about late 70’s powerpop and punk music is that its so great that it has almost never gone out of style, and plenty of bands have continued to use bands from this era as their sonic inspiration.  In a previous post I talked about how powerpop merged with indie to produce indiepop, which was very popular in the 90’s.  But recently I downloaded a bunch of stuff from the 2000’s that takes this fantastic era as its inspiration as well.  My one concern with this music is that it can occasionally edge toward the snarkiness of indie and emo, which I detest.  I’m not looking for snarky stuff by a bunch of arrogant pissants, and so its really necessary to take things on a band by band and even album by album basis.  A case in point is Chicago’s Poison Arrows, who grew out of some earlier bands most notably Thumbnail and Atombombpocketknife.  I recently downloaded “Sticky Situations” and “Wild Hearts Beat Free”, which both sound like fantastic takes on late 70’s LA powerpop a la the Zippers, the Nerves and 20/20 (“Sticky Situations” has the same rhythm to it as “Cherie”, one of my favorite 20/20 songs), with perhaps just a slight dollop of the bluesy edge of Johnny Thunders’ Heartbreakers.  However, in checking out their other releases, I find it just too emo for me.  If you like classic LA powerpop, check out these songs but I wasn’t thrilled by anything else.

I can’t find any information on the Street Brats, other than that they’re also from Chicago, but they are clearly mining a English punk sound as informed by early stuff like the Damned and Slaughter and the Dogs as well as later stuff like UK Subs.  I just downloaded “Seventy-Seven Fallen Angels” and it’s a refreshing blast of speedy punk with catchy melodies.  I will likely be exploring more of this stuff soon.  “Destination Nowhere” has a similar fast-but-catchy feel.

The Downtown Struts, another Chicago band, play fast, furious pop punk; it sounds a little like English ’77 bands like Cockney Rejects or Sham 69, with a little of the Alarm thrown in and the shouted, shared lyrics of early Clash, and reminds me somewhat of the Streetwalkin’ Cheetahs.  Their recent mini-album Sail the Seas Dry has 5 songs and not a single one is anything but terrific (I especially like “Little Mexico”).  Some of their earlier work incorporated country influences and sounded like the Rolling Stones or Replacements; “All Outta Love” from 2008’s Make It Cry, Boys is another rave-up I like a lot.

Portland Oregon also seems to have a very active ’77 punk/powerpop scene.  Like the Street Brats only a little less melodic are the Riffs, who play a really authentic English/NY/Cleveland punk that’s heavily influenced by two of my favorite bands, the Dead Boys and Sham 69.  I have “Death Or Glory” off the album of the same name.  “Poison Boys” also off this album has a little more of a glammy, Stooge-y feel (maybe it’s the pounding piano, which reminds me of Scott Thurston’s work with Iggy and Co. on Raw Power).

Guitarist Terry Six was the only band survivor of a car accident that killed the rest of the Exploding Hearts, who played a very catchy style that pulled from ’77 LA powerpop and ’77 London punk/mod—their song “Modern Kicks” has a raw, Who and Kinks quality (as filtered through the Jam) but the melodies and hooks of the Nerves.  I really like this song, along with “Rumours in Town” and “Boulevard Trash”, but really its hard to pick a song off their only studio album Guitar Romantic that isn’t good.  In 2006 their record label, Dirtnap (which has also put out stuff by the Briefs of Seattle who play in a similar vein to the Riffs; Steve E. Nicks and Stevie Kicks of the Briefs also play in a new wave/powerpop outfit called the Cute Lepers; I like “Terminal Boredom” off their appropriately named album Can’t Stand Modern Music), put together a compilation of singles, demos, and other outtakes called Shattered that’s almost as outstanding; I recently downloaded “Shattered” and “We Don’t Have to Worry Anymore”, they both just really evoke the wonderful music being made in Los Angeles, New York, and London in the late 70’s.  They also do a magnificent cover “Walking Out on Love” by Paul Collins’ Beat!!!   This band was considered by many in underground rock circles to one of the best and most promising bands in the nation (if not the world) for how skillfully they fused the influences of their antecedents with their own considerable songwriting and musical talent to craft arguably the best powerpop released since 1979.  What a tragedy that they were killed so tragically young.

After this tragedy, Terry Six joined Colin Jarrel and Gabe Lageson of the Riffs to form the Nice Boys, and they carry on in a similar manner, playing magnificent powerpop anthems that keep the spirit of bands like 20/20 and the Shoes alive and kicking.  This is another album where there’s literally not a bad track on it, and every single one of them would sound perfectly fine nestled up against “Yellow Pills” or “There She Goes”.  This music is much less punky and has its roots in the classic powerpop of the Raspberries and the Flamin’ Groovies.  If it has a fault its that their self-titled album (which is available on iTunes) is so consistently good that no single song jumps out—its hard not to just buy the entire album.

An Atlanta group, the Heart Attacks, hews closer to the late 70’s punk ethic, mixing the snotty first wave punk attitude of the Dead Boys and Heartbreakers with the glammy, sleazed-out feel of Hanoi Rocks; its in fact very similar to the work of D Generation and the Manic Street Preachers in the 90’s.  “You Oughta Know By Now” starts with a excellent Cheetah Chrome-like riff that spirals into a glam punk blast, with multiple vocalists coming in and out.  Good stuff.
Atlanta’s Biters play a heavily pop-infused powerpop that harks back to the powerpop idols like the Beatles and Kinks but with the exuberance of second-generation powerpoppers like the Zippers and the Motors.  Guitarist and vocalist Tuk was formerly of the Heart Attacks and formed this new band in 2009; their 2010 mini-album Its Okay to Like Biters doesn’t have a single bad song on it.  “Beat Me Baby” has that early, “I Saw Her Standing There” Beatles feel; “Hang Around” rocks a little harder but still has super infectious melodies and harmonies coating this crunch.  I actually ended up buying every song on this album because I love it so much.

Gentleman Jesse is the amazing powerpop side project of Jesse Smith, leader of Atlanta’s Carbonas; like the Biters and the Nice Boys, they play a marvelously authentic brand of 70’s powerpop with punk influences that is just amazing.  Gentleman Jesse also has the edgy new wave feel of early Stiff records legends like Nick Lowe and Elvis Costello on songs like “Black Hole” off his debut album Introducing Gentleman Jesse.  “Highland Crawler” clangs and chimes and has a foot stomping rhythm.  “Wrong Time” sounds like “Now” by the Nerves but as remade with a new wave edge by the Attractions.  I also love “I Don’t Want to Know (Where You Been Tonight)” off their 2009 3-song album of the same name.
California’s Soda Pop Kids sound like they are as influenced by protopunk as much as punk; “Put On Your Tight Pants”  has a blistering, bludgeoning guitar riff and rhythm that sounds like something the MC5 or the Dolls would be proud to call their own.  “Electric Blood” starts with a terrific repeating guitar riff, after which the rhythm section comes bashing in, then the whole thing gallops off like the Dead Boys or the Ramones.  “Saturday Every Day” starts like a cross between “Saturday Night” by the Sweet and “Blitzkrieg Bop” by the Ramones, with vocals that hint at Tom Verlaine’s from Television.

I’m sure I’ll find more but for now these dozen or so bands have re-ignited my optimism for the musical future.  There’s absolutely nothing wrong with stealing from/being influenced by someone as long as that someone is good.  All of these bands draw heavily on some classic influences but have added their own voice to the mix and created some original music (even if it does sound a lot like stuff you’ve heard before).

Wednesday, February 16, 2011



In a previous post, I mentioned how in the early 70’s punk rock arose in New York as a reaction to the over-indulgence and staleness of 70’s rock.  Rock no longer felt young or threatening or wild or rough or spontaneous.  Whatever else it was musically or politically, punk often was cruder and less technically driven, and often was a return to the rebellion and youthfulness of 50’s rock and roll.

However, there was another rock movement bubbling up throughout the 70’s, and that was heavy metal.  Some heavy metal acts were definitely popular, but it wasn’t many.  Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and Deep Purple (as well as Ritchie Blackmore’s subsequent band Rainbow) were international superstars and really defined the genre, although I have a problem describing most Zep as heavy metal; while they were clearly establishing some basic components of the metal aesthetic, Led Zeppelin transcended the genre, creating music that was truly non-categorizable.  Others, such as Budgie, UFO, and Uriah Heep, flirted with chart and touring success to greater or lesser degrees.  And during the early 70’s, two bands formed, the Scorpions and Judas Priest, that would become the prime movers in the metal field as the decade ended, though their earlier albums were still very much influenced by the major musical trends of the late 60’s, including jam, blues and psychedelia.  “I’m Going Mad”, off the Scorpions’ first album Lonesome Crow and “Speedy’s Coming” off 1974’s Fly To the Rainbow, in particular have a more blues/hard rock feel.  “I’m Going Mad” sounds like nothing more than Spinal Tap Mark II, where they do their extensive blues-jazz jam after being consigned to second bill to a puppet show—its only vaguely metallic, and sounds much more like a Cream-based jam.  “Catch Your Train”, another early cut from when Uli Roth was still a guitarist, is a little more metal-like, but it also draws heavily from standard 70’s guitar rock like Bachman Turner Overdrive or Steppenwolf

Uli Roth, by the way, is one of the unheralded geniuses/madmen of the 70’s.  He was supposedly obsessed with Hendrix (even dating his former girlfriend Monika Dannemann), and after leaving the Scorpions he formed the band Electric Sun that made music that was heavily blues and psychedelia influenced; “Burning Wheels Turning” off his 1979 album Earthquake is one such acid-drenched jam--it reminds me of some of the jazz/rock fusion stuff Al Dimeola and/or Pat Metheny were exploring around that time.   And Judas Priest’s 1974 debut album Rocka Rolla also emerged out of a very 60’s jam blues vibe.  There were definitely elements of Sabbath-influenced metal sludginess but as yet this was still music that did not transcend its time or influences. 

Heavy metal as a viable genre or sub-culture did not yet exist in the mid-70’s; indeed, metal’s heyday was still more than a decade off, and it was only in the late 80’s that heavy metal truly became ascendant as a musical discipline.  But that didn’t stop bands from exploring this genre throughout the 70’s, and several of them made some interesting forays into metal in general and in particular into the more melodic side of heavy metal that would eventually spawn Van Halen, Ratt, Poison, etc.  One such band was Legs Diamond, who formed in 1976 in the Bay Area but relocated to Los Angeles soon after, and who were often heralded as the “best undiscovered band in America”.  They released three albums in 1977-1978, none of which yielded much success.  Their sound was heavily influenced by Deep Purple but also had elements of Rush’s technical proficiency.  “Stage Fright” off their self-titled 1977 debut has a riff that sounds exactly like “Living in the Limelight” by Rush as interpreted by Ritchie Blackmore; “Satin Peacock” off the same album has a more driving beat like Purple’s “Highway Star”, with super high-pitched vocals that remind one of Rob Halford.  But one of their best songs is on the more melodic end of the spectrum, “Long Shot” off 1977’s follow-up A Diamond Is a Hard Rock, which has the lush guitar melodies and sweet riffs of classic 80’s hair metal, but also suggests the more pop work of UFO. Its also got a very catchy, soaring refrain.  Only the bizarre flute/synth solo in the middle mars the excellence of this song, otherwise its one of my current favorite songs.  Amazingly, all of Legs Diamond’s studio albums are available on iTunes.  Sadly, though they released albums well into the 80’s and beyond, they never were able to surf the hair metal wave they helped originate and achieved only minor success.  Its too bad that a band this talented and pioneering wasn’t able to cash in a little more, though they served as a major influence on subsequent bands like Van Halen, who opened for them early in their career.

On the opposite coast was another well respected but otherwise little known band making it in the genre of metal, and that’s Starz.  Formed in New York by the rhythm section of the early 70’s band Looking Glass (who had a hit with “Brandy”), Starz pursued a sound that hewed close to the melodic hard rock of Boston, with elements of metal and powerpop as well.  Like Legs Diamond, they released a handful of albums in the late 70’s which garnered little to no airplay.  “Detroit Girls” off their debut album was suitably hard rockin’, but most consider their second album Violation to be their best work, and indeed it has several outstanding, soaring, pop metal cuts, one of the best of which is “Cherry Baby”, which almost sounds like slightly metallic powerpop—I think as much of the Zippers and 20/20 as I do Deep Purple.  Actually, what it sounds a lot like is Cheap Trick in being just well-crafted pop hard rock (though admittedly without Rick Nielson’s manic new wave edginess), with the huge, soaring vocals of Dennis DeYoung of Styx.    If you download only one Starz song (and like Legs Diamond, all of their 70’s albums are available on iTunes), this is the one.  “Rock Six Times” is a little more rocking and suggests to me Sammy Hagar era Montrose, perhaps “Bad Motor Scooter”?), while “Sing It Shout It” starts out almost sounding like Steely Dan and then shifts into a big bridge and chorus that sound like “Shout it Out Loud” by Kiss.   “She” was another powerpop-influenced gem off 1978’s Attention Shoppers and “So Young, So Bad” is a little more hard rock sounding and again really evokes Boston’s first album. 

Another hard rock/heavy metal band out of NYC in the 70’s was Riot, who released Rock City in 1977.  “Desperation” sounds like the missing link between Deep Purple and Metallica; indeed, it could be slotted in between “Space Truckin’” and “Jump in the Fire” and you’d probably think you were listening to one long song.  “Rock City” has a similar NWOBHM feel, here edging closer to the melodic pop metal of Def Leppard (particularly their early stuff like “Let It Go”) crossed with hard stuff like Blitzkrieg and Holocaust.  Their 1981 album Fire Down Under really continues this NWOBM feel; “Swords and Tequila” and “Fire Down Under” really rock hard and make this sound like a missing NWOBM classic.

A couple of unheralded 70’s metal bands came from Canada.  Windsor, Ontario’s Teaze had a minor hit, the ballad “Sweet Misery” in 1978, but otherwise much of their music, like “Ready To Move” and “Rockin’ With the Music”, was also heavily influenced by Deep Purple and Judas Priest.  “Hot To Trot”, off their debut album Teaze has a raunchier glam feel, sounding more like Kiss in their heyday.  Again, all of their early albums are readily available on iTunes.

Another Canadian band, Toronto’s Moxy, leaned more towards Aerosmith.  “Can’t You See I’m a Star” off their self-titled album, is reminiscent of “Walk This Way” and of “Good Times Bad Times” or “The Ocean” by Led Zep; James Gang guitarist Tommy Bolin lent his guitar prowess to this song. “Cause There’s Another” off Moxy II is more of a straightforward rocker that at times recalls “Head Out On the Highway” by Judas Priest crossed with “Ramblin’ Man” by the Allman Brothers

Britain’s Quartz came out of Birmingham like their heroes Black Sabbath and Judas Priest and played a heavy, Sabbath-influenced brand of metal.  “Mainline Riders” has this gloomy, heavy Sabbath feel, but also occasionally hints at “Hold Your Head Up” by Argent and “The Stroke” by Billy Squier.

Back in America’s Midwest, Cain was creating more Deep Purple-influenced metallic rock.  “Queen of the Night” sounds like Purple with Rob Halford-style vocals that almost approach the operatic majesty of Ronnie James Dio’s work with Rainbow, or even “Neon Nights” off Sabbath’s Heaven and Hell.  Good stuff if you like these bands.  Their album, a Pound of Flesh, is available on iTunes.

Finally, this is as good a place as any to sing the praises of Montrose.  Formed by lead guitarist Ronnie Monstrose, who had played with Van Morrison and Edgar Winter, in 1973, Montrose was another metal pioneer, taking the big riffs of Zep and Sabbath and wielding them to lead singer Sammy Hagar’s strong vocals. “Rock Candy” off their debut sounds like “The Ocean”, and seems to me at least to be a clear inspiration for the Masters of Reality’s “The Candy Song”.  “Space Station #5” starts with a freaky space rock beginning before its catchy riff sends the song strutting along like Sabbath’s “Paranoid”.  My favorite songs are “Bad Motor Scooter” and  “Rock the Nation”; the former starts out sounding like early Aerosmith before launching into its propulsive chorus, while the latter starts with another catchy, crunchy guitar hook that sounds like classic Deep Purple.

Most of these bands achieved only minor success beyond an occasional regional hit single, but their groundwork set the stage for the emergence of metal as a dominant musical and cultural force in the late 70’s and early 80’s.  In the late 70’s, the New Wave of British Heavy Metal emerged even as punk was peaking, and several bands emerged from this movement to become international superstars (most notably Def Leppard and Iron Maiden).  In America in the early 80’s several bands pursued a melodic pop-influenced hard rock similar to Starz and Legs Diamond, in particular Ratt, Quiet Riot, Poison, etc.